My name is Rim Gilfanov. I've been a journalists for over 25 years -- first based in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia, and for the last 20 years at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The world's attention is now focused on Crimea and the attempt by its de-facto leadership to split off from Ukraine and make it a part of Russia. And while much attention has been given to the majority ethnic-Russians, few talk about the Crimean Tatars. A Turkic-Muslim people, they make up 14 percent of the population now, but they are a politically very active and pro-Ukrainian force in the peninsula. Crimean Tatars suffered mass deportations 70 years ago, which were ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Joining Russia is seen as a return to the tragic past for Crimean Tatars. Their leadership, one of whose members I interviewed shortly after his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has vociferously spoken out against a potential annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

Proof: Al Jazeera piece ( and Twitter (


Comments: 61 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

Kikster92411 karma

Up until Russia came into the picture, what was the Crimean Tatar perspective about events in Kyiv?

guilfanr21 karma

They supported Maydan, knowing that Yanukovich did little to help Tatars to repatriate in homeland and to be integrated with political life there. Previously they had some quota in regional parliament to be represented but it was canceled as Yanukovich appointed its supporters from Donetsk region to lead Crimea. Tatar organizations think pro-European orientation of Ukraine will help more to guarantee their ethnic, cultural, linguistic rights.

gbk310 karma

Will Crimean Tatars actually vote in the coming referendum?

guilfanr15 karma

Majority of Crimean Tatars will just boycott the referendum, the very idea of going back in Russia revives their bad historical experience with government in Moscow, regardless it was Tsarist, or Soviet - Tatars only suffered under the Russian domination. Second, the referendum was declared illegally, prepared with major violations of democratic procedures, and Tatars well aware of that.

111x11110 karma

Why do the Tatars associate Stalin's actions, 70 years ago, with current Russia? I think it's commonly accepted that Stalin did fucked up shit to various groups, ethnic, political, class, etc. However, the man himself was Georgian, and was the leader of a different political entity. So what is the association to the modern day Russian state? Do the Tatars actually fear mass deportations in the current scenario?

guilfanr22 karma

It's not about Stalin being of Georgian, it's about the state which did all those atrocities. Current Russian leadership proudly carries the Soviet heritage, Putin himself describes Stalin positively, and again - today's Russia acts and behaves as Soviet Union in many cases, see promotion of anti-Western sentiments, imperial aspirations, intimidation of dissent, minorities, new wave of Rusification. So the fears are well grounded.

RuggerDuck89 karma

What's the best case scenario that can come out of this? Or, since neither referendum option leaves things as they are now, is it just lose/lose at this point?

guilfanr11 karma

It looks really like lose/lose so far. Crimean regional leadership already acts as it's in Russia now, and whatever the outcome of referendum is, given Moscow invested big political capital in getting Crimea into Russia, region will be tied to Russia for the next few years at least. Meaning, legally, economically, even mentally. So now Crimean Tatars will have to adapt to new realities, for example, face problems with land registry, new regulations on small businesses, where they can start to be discriminated because of their anti-Russian stance.

whowrudit9 karma

  1. Would it be possible or desireable for Tatars to migrate to Ukraine after the referendum?

  2. What about Tatarstan: are there many links to the region, and would that be a viable place for Tatars to live freely given Crimea's incorporation into the Russian Federation?

guilfanr6 karma

  1. No, they completely reject that. They had been already expelled from their homeland once, in 1944, and now they say, under no circumstances they would again leave the homeland.
  2. Tatarstan has much longer history of being inside Russia, and they have a bit different mentality of coexisting with Russians. Now Moscow wants to use Kazan Tatars in "pacifying" Crimean Tatars, though till the current Crimean conflict Russia tried to prevent closer Kazan-Crimea cooperation for decades. Kazan and Crimean Tatars are now different ethnic groups afterall, but they are still very close to each other, sharing common historical and cultural heritage.

weenus7 karma

Is it true that Crimean Tatar's have already begun being harassed or is that just a rumor?

guilfanr11 karma

There were just few minor cases reported, like somebody scratched crosses on several Tatar houses in Bachcesaray area, and one Tatar business (hotel) was set on fire near Alushta. So far it looks like a psychological pressure to make them keep quiet.

bureX7 karma

What's the free speech and journalist freedom like regarding this upcoming referendum?

Are the Tatars and non-Russians in general coerced into keeping quiet and staying politically dormant in Crimea?

guilfanr8 karma

One can't speak about free speech in current Crimean situation at all. Regional government shut all Ukrainian TV channels down, replacing them with state-run Russian TV, which as I said before engaged in Goebbels-like propaganda these days. Till now yes, no party is interested in getting the things worse, even Russian nationalists. But after the referendum it may change. And if new authorities start discriminate Tatar interests, that can lead to new tensions. Russia mostly relies on use of force in dealing with active ethnic and religious minorities.

damacu6 karma

What is the most troubling thing (spin, lies, mis-representation, fear, half-truth, propagandization, etc) you have seen from both the West's media portrayal of this crisis and also from Russia and much of their state-directed agencies?

Do you have freedom to report or say your thoughts on this with impunity, and is there a risk to your safety for reporting on this openly?

guilfanr13 karma

From West: So far and very often the conflict is seen as Russo-Ukrainian stand-off, formally it's right but we have to see it in details and historical context. The major party, who suffers the most from geopolitical shifts in the region are Tatars, Crimea's indigenous people. And Western media doesn't pay to that much attention. From Russia: I personally haven't seen that kind of level propaganda and open lies, Russian official media now uses. That's really sad Russian leadership took that "courage" to brainwash their own people. We experience that in our work as journalists - the people in Russia are afraid to express their genuine thoughts about the events in Crimea, they better repeat the official media interpretation. We see some worrisome elements in this, like it was with Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Emstina315 karma

Are Tatars in Crimea really in danger from nationalists on either side?

guilfanr9 karma

They actually are. Because they are the only pro-Ukrainian force in the peninsula, defending the country's territorial integrity. So they can easily become a target for radicals from pro-Russian parties. So far, Russian leadership and personally Putin gave firm guarantees that the position of Crimean Tatars will be respected - Moscow doesn't want that organized Tatar force to be engaged in violent clashes ahead of referendum. But that can change after, both the history and the recent reality showed that there is little trust in Moscow's statements.

RFERLive4 karma

Another from Twitter: ‏@Tymchatyn writes: What do Crimean Tatars want in the long-run? (If none of this provocation and military intervention happened.)

guilfanr3 karma

They want to build some form of statehood, because they think only that institution can prevent them and their language, culture, from disappearance. And they see it within Ukrainian state. Russia tends to destroy all attempts of its minorities to go that way (see the case of Tatarstan, which lost most of its power after Putin came to Russian leadership).

RFERLive3 karma

Here's a question from Twitter: ‏@storybooks writes: aren't the Crimera Tatars Krymchaks (Jewish)? or is that seperate? @RFERL

guilfanr4 karma

Krymchaks are different.. small indigenous group of Jewish denomination, presumbely left after Khazars.

ayatomat1 karma

How much you get paid for covering the Ukrainian conflict but to stay silent about Turkey?

guilfanr3 karma

We cover Turkey as well, but given Mr Erdogan is busy with own domestic problems, there is nothing much to cover. But Turkey can definitely play larger role in defending Crimean Tatars, and not only by issuing statements.

karmanaut0 karma

Their leadership, one of whose members I interviewed shortly after his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has vociferously spoken out against a potential annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

Would they be interested in doing an AMA? It would be very cool to hear from them.

My question is: What effect would the annexation of Crimea have on other former Soviet republics, like Georgia or Kazakhstan?

guilfanr7 karma

Well, I think that Abkhazia and South Osetia will rise their aspiration to join Russia as well, making the normalization of Russo-Georgian relation even harder, and Kazakhstan will definitely get more aware of Russian imperial ambitions, and this also won't serve to bilateral cooperation. Northern territories of Kazakhstan with big Russian population will start also consider "Crimean" model for them.

CountPoxUla0 karma

So that would make your a Commen-tatar. :D

Oh yeah, going to hell for that one. ;)

Kind of an interesting part of the world, nobody outside central asia ever hears much about it, and yet, all kinda of crazy world history revolves around it. The American-Indians were from there 9-12 thousand years ago, south, north, and central. Also various migrations, invasion, hoards, you name it have spread from there to just about everywhere in Eurasia, meaning your genepool covers everywhere but parts of Africa, and on that I'm not 100% on. Probably some people with that ancestry in North Africa at the least.

It's a crazy idea, but if people of your genetic background all unified, they could control the world, again, lol! :D

guilfanr3 karma

We are waiting for new Genghis-khan to do that :)

id10t_pen15-3 karma

If you eat fish there, how is their Tartar's sauce?

guilfanr9 karma

:) Tartar sauce is 100% European invention :) Ask French about it.